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Intonation and Prosodic Structure

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Academic Paper


Title: Why labial-velar stops merge to /gb/
Author: Michael C. Cahill
Email: click here TO access email
Institution: SIL International
Linguistic Field: Phonology
Abstract: Most languages with labial-velar stops (i.e. /kp/ and /gb/) have both the voiced and voiceless versions, but several dozen languages have only /kp/ or only /gb/. Examination of the stop inventories of such languages reveals that in languages which have only /kp/ there are always other gaps in the stop inventory, but languages which have only /gb/ usually have a full set of other stops, showing that there is a different historical mechanism involved. Also, ‘/gb/-only’ languages are more common than ‘/kp/-only’ languages, despite the cross-linguistic tendency to favour voiceless stops. Comparative studies show that ‘/gb/-only’ languages are often a result of a merger of *gb and *kp into /gb/. I propose that this merger is a result of three phonetic characteristics of the phonologically voiceless /kp/, qualities typical of voiced obstruents. Since *kp is already partly in the ‘voiced camp’, I hypothesise that hearers interpret it as voiced.

CUP AT LINGUIST

This article appears IN Phonology Vol. 25, Issue 3.

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